SOPHIE: Remembering A Visionary and Trailblazer of the Hyperpop Movement
January 30th marks the passing of visionary Scottish-born icon, SOPHIE, who led advancements in the hyperpop movement and pushed the boundaries of music itself. Hyperpop is a microgenre characterized by an exaggerated take on pop music, with integration of pop and avant-garde sensibilities, as well as an inclusive mindset for the LGBTQ+ community. The genre is heavily influenced by queer and transgender aesthetics and perspectives. To this day, we see mainstream artists' appreciation and admiration for SOPHIE's sound and legacy.
SOPHIE created an identity of obscurity, one hidden within modulations and distortions of vocals. Her music emphasized the artificial image an artist creates for media platforms mixed with the distillation of ideas to their most basic forms. Even with synths, percussion, and the occasional vocal, SOPHIE created a minimal sound that focused not only on the positive space, but also on the negative, empty space.
SOPHIE's music elicited emotion in every song and proved to be one of the very first of its kind when Product came out in 2015. We see this permeate with "BIPP"–cartoonish, helium-filled synths with the only lyric being "I can make you feel better". Product contained not only electrifying synths, but also trap bangers such as "HARD" and "MSMSMS", showcasing aggressive, abrasive drops and synths mixed with lyrics about BDSM play and sexual pleasure. All bundled in 2015, many people attempted to replicate the sounds; thus began the start of something greater–the sounds of transforming something "normal" into something beyond what was laid out.
Thousands of musicians took notice of SOPHIE's music and after creating a cult following, Charli XCX had SOPHIE produce her Vroom Vroom EP. From the album, "Vroom Vroom" became a pivotal point in her career, as SOPHIE's production was heard by a mainstream audience for the first time and became a hit with the LGBTQ+ community. "Vroom Vroom" proved that noncommercial, abrasive music is often intriguing and can produce an audience that will listen. It looked past commercial success and pulled more focus to the music itself and the creation of something that pushed the boundaries of the realm of pop itself.
Despite an extensive catalog, SOPHIE had never shown her face in any work.. that was, until she dropped "It's Okay To Cry" in 2017 alongside a music video. Over 80s power ballad synths, audio panning, and vocal layering, SOPHIE's vocals emphasize the emotions of screaming from the top of the mountains and the satisfaction of gender euphoria. The music video that accompanied "It's Okay To Cry" became the first time SOPHIE centered on her trans identity and made public who she was. With rainbows and cosmic galaxies, we see SOPHIE with the iconic red hair and glossy red lipstick. In the rain showering down, we see the smile and true happiness of being vulnerable and showing the mysterious artist's true self. What made this music video unique is that compared to overly edited, high vocals, we hear the imperfections of SOPHIE's voice. More importantly, this signifies breaking down walls and barriers, especially in the music world.
SOPHIE's debut album, OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES, not only centered on a trans identity but explored the changing of identities. This became a transformative album that revolutionized the hyperpop genre. From "It's Okay To Cry", the album follows up with "Ponyboy", an abrasive dubstep track mixed with a double entendre of the sexual BDSM bodily temptation and sonically-robotic, mechanical synths. "Faceshopping" dealt with how people define themselves in the 21st century, whether undergoing plastic surgery or simply using photoshop to alter oneself online to be more admired by people on the internet. "Is It Cold in the Water?" mixed pulsating synths and euphoric wrapped vocals. What makes this track powerful is the idea that the lyrics refer to the fears that accompany the anticipation of changing oneself. This change, whether it's a self-change or even hopes and desires, affects everyone. This track became so well known that mainstream electronic artist Flume created a remix. "Infatuation" presents a change into a more ambient-filled track, which mixed bubbly sounds and an emphasis on the sonic scape by providing detailed panning to the listener. The track explores the dangers introduced by obsessions and wanting desperately to get to know someone. "You're deadly/You're Heavenly" ends the track and brings to light the idea that when our self-actualized self does not meet our envisioned self, we have a higher chance of suicide, while those that can meet their goals can live truly that fantasy. This concept opens up the conversation of a greater story on LGBTQ+ increased suicide rates, as well as the toil of not meeting one's expectations.
On the second half of the album, "Not Okay" brings another shift of the tempo of the album, bringing back echoed synths and haunting textures. "Pretending" emphasizes the haunting synths that almost scare the listener into facing their worst fears. This track pushes our insecurity and the belief that we are just "pretending" to be someone whom we are not. With those thoughts in transition, people are more inclined to dysphoria or disassociation and the emotional damage the feeling gives. "Immaterial" follows up and represents a triumphant victory once all fear subsides and we follow with our hearts. The track focuses on opposing ideas of fluidity, but more importantly, it focuses on being free. This anthem is here to embrace those that do not fit within the binary constructed by society. The song shouts at listeners, urging them to break free and just be themselves. The repetition of the lyric "immaterial" helps us understand that we are nothing in the grand scheme of the world, so we should be able to be whatever we want to be.
"You could be me and I could be you / Always the same and never the same / Day by day, life after life...Without my legs or my hair/ Without my genes or my blood/ With no name and with no type of story/ Where do I live?/ Tell me, where do I exist?"
"Immaterial" is SOPHIE's declaration to challenge the notion we have about gender. This song creates the legacy–and supports the meaning–of hyperpop, challenging the notion of "normal" and illustrating the beauty of experimentation and discovery. The album ends with a nine-minute track called "Whole New World/Pretend World". The tune brings forth harsh synths mixed with glitch vocals that are heavy and not repetitive, but unique. These synths and patches were the first of their kind. The ability to elicit a visceral experience for the audience in this way was something unheard of prior to this release. "Whole New World/Pretend World" represents a separation from one's former self doubt and desperation into a revival of one's self and confidence, both aurally and lyrically. What makes the final track so impeccable is how it gradually transforms into a dark ambiance, with frightful, cautionary synths closing out the album.
SOPHIE was a visionary and pushed hyperpop to new levels within the electronic world and the larger music industry. Hyperpop has become not only a genre, but a family of inclusivity and a home for all. The genre has prepared us to explore past the "normative" of music and break physical and invisible barriers. Through her music, marked by extreme, hyperrealistic aesthetics that jar the senses, SOPHIE has left a legacy for others to pass on and challenge in the coming decades.